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Conquering the "Ifs" (September 15, 2021)

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash 

Dear Disciples of Christ,

“If” – in today’s world, when we say “if” it’s often a hopeful thought of what might’ve been. “Ifs” lead to a stream of “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve – but didn’t” thoughts. “If the referee would’ve made the right call, my team could’ve won.” “If I could’ve made more money, I’d be happier.” 

St. Mark’s gospel recounts another big “if”. It happens when a father who is beside himself with anguish over his son’s plight in life … violent, uncontrollable seizures that cause horrific injuries. He’s heard about Jesus and His disciples and the incredible miracles they’d done (e.g. Mark 5, Mark 6:7-13, Mark 8:1-10). So, he hoped they could heal his boy and bring him peace. But Jesus’ disciples couldn’t do it (Mark 9:17-18). He finally calls out to Jesus, in a form of prayer, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!” In New Testament Greek, there are three kinds of “ifs” – one that’s not likely to happen, one that could happen, and one that’s very likely to happen. The father’s “if” is one that’s very likely to happen. It’s as if he would’ve prayed, “Jesus, I know you can do anything … help us!” His faith-filled prayer to Jesus, the Son of God, was answered as Jesus healed his son.

The disciples, followers of Jesus, were amazed. They asked Jesus why they couldn’t heal the boy. Jesus’ response, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). 

God hears our faith-filled prayers, and He answers them. Faith-filled prayers trust God to hear and answer our prayers in accord with His good and perfect will. When it comes to God, our “if” isn’t an “if” of doubt, uncertainty, or might’ve been. It’s an “if” of certainty in knowing God will respond to our need in the way that’s best for us. His response might be, “Yes”, “No”, or “Wait.” But we know that however He answers, we’ll get what we truly need to persevere in faith. Let us approach God with the “If of Certainty”.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Details, Details, Details (September 8, 2021)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

You’ve heard the saying, “That’s good enough for government work.” The idea behind this is that “details” aren’t important, as long as the job gets done. So, even if a detail here and there gets missed, it’s no big deal. We got through the task. Frankly, that line of reasoning has always rubbed me the wrong way as I think we should put forth our best efforts in all things. 

God’s word calls on us to pay attention to details, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). When “everything” is used in scripture, it means 100% – not 99%. So, what does “everything” entail? James clarifies saying, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). With God, details matter. Miss one little thing and you might as well have missed them all. Looking at murder, Martin Luther explains that in addition to literally taking a life, we also violate this law with the seemingly small detail of not providing food, a basic necessity of life, to someone in need. On adultery, Jesus says that even if you think about committing adultery, you have sinned (Matthew 5:27-28). God is detail oriented – there’s no “good enough” with Him.

Except … with His Son. Jesus was good enough. Jesus obeyed every single detail, 100% of the law. And then He was executed on the cross. Because of His 100% obedience, all who believe in Him are forgiven for the details they miss. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we realize the details we miss. He helps us to confess our sins to receive God’s forgiveness. He helps us to grow in holiness throughout our lives – growing to miss fewer and fewer details while living our lives in faith, evidenced by our good works (James 2:14-18) in response to His love for us.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Back to School (September 1, 2021)

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash 

Dear Children of God,

Back to school! It’s both exciting … and a little nerve wracking. We know a good education, built on the foundation of the “3 R’s” – “readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic” – is key to success in life. It’s hard to get very far without some basis of knowledge and ability to use these tools in life. Therefore, we, as a society, place a great deal of importance on passing this knowledge along to our children. 

As critical as the “3 R’s” are to life, there’s another, even more important, “R” – religion … specifically the Christian religion as guided and formed by the foundation of God’s word. God’s word tells us in many places that we’re to pass this “R” along to all we can, starting with our own children. God has placed the utmost importance on spreading His word since the earliest days of His people saying to Israel, as they entered the Promised Land, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them … Make them known to your children and your children's children" (Deuteronomy 4:1,9). God firmly desires that all of His children, from the youngest to the oldest, immerse themselves in His word so they can all learn from Him how to live the lives He has given us.

Learning – whether the 3 R’s or God’s will – is a lifelong activity. It requires effort. We might wish we could put a book under our pillow and let the knowledge enter our brains while we sleep. But it doesn’t work that way. We need to spend time filling ourselves with knowledge … including the righteous knowledge found in God’s word. I invite you to fill your hearts, minds, and souls with the knowledge of God and His good and perfect will for you by regularly joining us in worship, Sunday School, and weekly Bible Study. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you with understanding to boldly proclaim His gospel in your words and deeds as they overflow from your Spirit-filled heart.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Owner's Manual for Life (August 25, 2021)

Photo by SCREEN POST on Unsplash 

Dear Children of God,

When I get a new gadget, I usually read the owner’s manual. Because, as a former engineer, I appreciate that somebody who built it did me the favor of writing a user’s guide to tell me how it’s supposed to work and what to do to care for it so it keeps working as it should. After all, they created it so they should also know best how it works and what it needs to work properly.

God’s Word tells us an astounding fact – God created each one of us (Psalm 139:13-14, James 1:17-18). You could say, in a way, that God is our manufacturer. As such He knows everything about us. Like any good manufacturer, He goes out of His way to make sure we know how we should live, how to maintain ourselves, and how to get repaired when we break. He does all this in our “user’s guide”, the Holy Bible. 

Unfortunately, too many people, us included, don’t fully recognize God as our Creator. We think we know better than Him how we should act and maintain ourselves. We’re like the clay God mentions through His prophet Isaiah, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me,’ or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16). It seems ridiculous for a pot to disregard the potter who made it and his intent for making it, but that’s the way many react to God as He tells them how He created them to live in His creation.

Disregarding God’s “user’s guide” leads us into sin which inevitably leads to a total breakdown in us and His creation. But God reminds us how to get repaired too. Knowing we can’t repair ourselves, He sent Jesus, His Son, to put us back together after sin causes us to fall apart. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’re restored to new by our Father’s grace, love, and mercy found in His forgiveness.

                                                                                    In our Creator’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

I Don't Do That Anymore (August 18, 2021)

close-up photography of person lifting hands

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash 

Dear Children of Light,

Remember Johnny Bench - the Hall of Fame catcher for the Cincinnati Reds? He was famous for holding seven baseballs in one hand. Try it – unless you have huge hands, you probably can’t. Today Johnny endorses a medicated pain rub where’s he’s asked, “Is it true you can hold seven baseballs?” His response, “I don’t do that anymore,” as he holds seven hamburgers in one hand. As we go through life, there are many things we “don’t do anymore.” And unlike baseballs and hamburgers, it can be a sign of growth.

Paul writes, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light … and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8,10). He reminds the Ephesians of their former ways, things they “don’t do anymore” because they have come to believe in Jesus, who has transformed them into new people, “Children of Light.” In the past their lives were filled with foolish behavior, unfruitful works of darkness, that ran counter to God’s will. But Paul provides more than advice what not to do. It’s true that he urges “children of light” to “don’t do that anymore.” But he also urges them to be active lights in the world through their actions, “fruit of the light” that exposes the world’s evil in order that the world might become “children of light” who grow to not “do that anymore.”

So, what does being “fruit of the light” shining into the darkness of the world mean? It means living in the world – showing the world – what a “child of light” looks like through words and actions. It doesn’t mean living like a hermit, separated from all that goes on. It means living in the places God puts us. Using the gifts He’s given us. And making the lives God has given us lives of worship by giving Him thanks for all He’s given us and serving one another in reverence to Christ (Ephesians 5:19-21) because “we don’t do that anymore.”

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Hidden in Plain Sight (August 11, 2021)

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the list of frustrating things, near the top of the list might be – searching for something we can’t find but know is around here somewhere. We run all over, often right past what we’re looking for as it hides in plain sight. This happens to me when I’m working in the garage, and I can’t find the one tool needed to fix the thing I’m working on. After chasing all over – I take a deep breath to clear my mind – and there it is, amazingly, right where I put it. 

People in Jesus’ day had a similar problem. Only it was they who were broken and looking for the one thing that could fix them. In John 6 Jesus travels back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. He goes across the sea to feed over 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Then He walks across the sea to His disciples as they struggle in the strong wind. The crowds saw that Jesus didn’t cross the sea with His disciples. But they also couldn’t find Him. Like me in the garage looking for tools, they got in their boats and chased to the other side looking for Him. And they found Him, but they didn’t find what they were looking for. 

Nourishment is necessary for physical life. The crowds sought someone to nourish them with bread, the key food of Jesus’ day. They only saw Jesus as their “bread giver” who would solve their hunger problem. While Jesus could do that if He wanted, that wasn’t what they needed. What they needed, and what they couldn’t see hiding in plain sight, was the solution to their real problem – their sin which causes eternal death. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger … he will live forever” (John 6:35,51).

Do we see Jesus as the Bread of Life who gives eternal life? Or do we, like most in Jesus’ day, continue looking, even though He’s hiding in plain sight? 

                                                                                    In Our Father’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

That's Impossible (July 28, 2021)

File:2018-10-16 Gymnastics at 2018 Summer Youth Olympics – Rhythmic Gymnastics - Clubs final (Martin Rulsch) 154.jpg

CREDIT: Martin Rulsch

Dear Friends and Family,

In case you missed it, the Olympics are coming up. I love to watch sports – baseball, college basketball, and a little football. During the Olympics though, my attention expands to other sports – specifically gymnastics. Why? World-class gymnasts pull out all the stops for the Olympics. They do some amazing things. As I watch, I’m constantly stunned at what they can achieve as these gymnasts defy gravity and the bounds of human movements. A frequent thought is, “That’s impossible!” Of course, it isn’t … because I just saw it happen … but still, it seems impossible!

This past week was Vacation Bible School and our theme was, “Jesus does the impossible.” While gymnasts and the other Olympic athletes seem to do the impossible, they are simply using the gifts God has given them to the maximum extent. But Jesus does do the impossible – in small and great ways! One of these impossible events we saw during VBS is Jesus walking on water as the disciples struggled to get their boat across the Sea of Galilee. They saw Jesus walking on the water and said, “That’s impossible!” (Mark 6:49-50/Matthew 14:26) Then, as soon as Jesus got in the boat with them, the wind storm ceased “And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33).

Throughout His ministry Jesus did a selected number of miracles, things impossible for you and me, to a selected number of people, for one purpose – to show people that He is, as the disciples stated, the Son of God. And as the Son of God, as amazing and impossible as turning water into wine, walking on water, healing the sick and raising the dead are, He did something even more impossible for us to do. He lived a perfectly sinless life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead so that, you and I and all who believe in Him can receive the gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Jesus does do the impossible! Thanks be to God.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim